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The Decision to Delay Social Security Benefits: Theory and Evidence

  • John B. Shoven
  • Sita Nataraj Slavov

Social Security benefits may be commenced at any time between age 62 and age 70. As individuals who claim later can, on average, expect to receive benefits for a shorter period, an actuarial adjustment is made to the monthly benefit amount to reflect the age at which benefits are claimed. We investigate the actuarial fairness of this adjustment. Our simulations suggest that delaying is actuarially advantageous for a large subset of people, particularly for real interest rates of 3.5 percent or below. The gains from delaying are greater at lower interest rates, for married couples relative to singles, for single women relative to single men, and for two-earner couples relative to one-earner couples. In a two-earner couple, the gains from deferring the primary earner's benefit are greater than the gains from deferring the secondary earner's benefit. We then use panel data from the Health and Retirement Study to investigate whether individuals' actual claiming behavior appears to be influenced by the degree of actuarial advantage to delaying. We find no evidence of a consistent relationship between claiming behavior and factors that influence the actuarial advantage of delay, including gender and marital status, interest rates, subjective discount rates, or subjective assessments of life expectancy.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17866.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17866.

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Date of creation: Feb 2012
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Publication status: published as “Does It Pay to Delay Social Security?” (with John Shoven) Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, 13(2), April 2014, 121-144. (Earlier versions: NBER Working Paper no. 17866 and NBER Working Paper no. 18210)
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17866
Note: AG
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  1. Andrew G. Biggs, 2011. "Social Security," Books, American Enterprise Institute, number 6033, 8.
  2. Butler, Monika & Teppa, Federica, 2007. "The choice between an annuity and a lump sum: Results from Swiss pension funds," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(10), pages 1944-1966, November.
  3. Michael D. Hurd & James P. Smith & Julie M. Zissimopoulos, 2002. "The Effects of Subjective Survival on Retirement and Social Security Claiming," NBER Working Papers 9140, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Gopi Shah Goda & John B. Shoven & Sita Nataraj Slavov, 2010. "Implicit Taxes on Work from Social Security and Medicare," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 25, pages 69-88 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Steven A. Sass & Wei Sun & Anthony Webb, 2008. "When Should Married Men Claim Social Security Benefits?," Issues in Brief ib2008-8-4, Center for Retirement Research, revised Mar 2008.
  6. Courtney Coile & Peter Diamond & Jonathan Gruber & Alain Jousten, 1999. "Delays in Claiming Social Security Benefits," NBER Working Papers 7318, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. repec:aei:rpbook:24949 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Alicia H. Munnell & Alex Golub-Sass & Nadia Karamcheva, 2009. "Strange But True: Claim Social Security Now, Claim More Later," Issues in Brief ib2009-9-9, Center for Retirement Research, revised Apr 2009.
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